Wednesday 22 February 2017

Singing praises of 'forgotten patriot' who wrote anthem

Published 26/04/2011 | 05:00

EVEN those Irish international footballers who stumble over the words of the National Anthem can generally hum the tune.

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And for that, they can thank Patrick Heeney.

Yesterday, the composer described as the "forgotten patriot" was honoured for his role in bringing 'Amhran na bhFiann' to life.

But Heeney -- who died 100 years ago this July -- almost succeeded in sabotaging his own legacy.

"In 1907, Peadar Kearney wrote the song's [original English] lyrics and he brought them to Heeney's house at Mecklenburgh Street so he could write the music," Dublin north inner city historian Terry Fagan said.

Poverty

"He left it with Heeney for about a week, and he came back to ask Heeney how the song was going and he said he was having problems getting the tunes right.

"In a fit of temper he actually threw the manuscript into the fire. But Kearney was quick enough to grab it back out, set it back out on the table, and pleaded with Heeney to stick at it.

"And Heeney did stick at it, and hence was born the music for the national anthem."

However, Heeney did not live long enough to enjoy its success. Having been born into abject poverty, he died in 1911, aged just 29.

"Patrick was buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery in Drumcondra. He really was the forgotten patriot."

His tune, however, has lived on. Less than a decade after Kearney and Heeney produced 'The Soldiers' Song', it became the battle hymn for the men and women of the 1916 Rising.

It became 'Amhran na bhFiann' when later translated into Irish by Liam O Rinn, before being officially adopted as the National Anthem in 1926.

Yesterday, Mr O Rinn's grand-nephew Nial Ring was on hand to unveil a plaque to Mr Heeney at the site of his former home, now named Railway Street.

"The history, the culture and the heritage of our country -- it's all we have left," Mr Ring said. "Economically, we're not doing so well but we still have our history ... we still have what's in our hearts being Irish people.

"The men and women of 1916 should never be forgotten, and with Amhran na bhFiann, they'll never be forgotten. We will always be in their debt."

Earlier, descendants of James Connolly and Molly O'Reilly had helped re-enact the hoisting of the green flag over Liberty Hall the week before Easter Week 1916.

Ms O'Reilly was only 14 years of age, and was picked up by Connolly to raise the flag. She would go on to fight in the Rising a week later.

"When the history is written about the struggle for Irish freedom, the women's role in the fight has largely been forgotten," Mr Fagan said.

Irish Independent

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